Remembering Baruch S. Blumberg, MD, PhD

Baruch S. Blumberg, MD, PhD, 1925-2011

Over a long and accomplished career, Dr. Blumberg (1925-2011) was best known for identifying, with colleagues, the hepatitis B virus, a major cause of primary liver cancer. That discovery led to the development of the first vaccine against hepatitis B, which was also the first vaccine capable of preventing a human cancer. For this discovery, Dr. Blumberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1976.

  • Read an interview with Dr. Blumberg from the Fall 2009 Forward here.
  • Remembering Barry: An essay by colleague W. Thomas London.
  • Read more of his history and see a publication list at
  • Visit his Nobel Prize page here.
  • Make a donation to Fox Chase Cancer Center and help fund  an award for postdoctoral research started by Blumberg by clicking here.

Photo gallery courtesy of the Talbot Research Library. Click on any picture to start the slideshow.

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2 Responses to “Remembering Baruch S. Blumberg, MD, PhD”

  1. Drew Jean
    May 14, 2011 at 9:17 pm #

    Baruch S. Blumberg
    Remembrances by Jeannie Drew
    I met Dr. Blumberg while interviewing for my first job out of college. He had collaborated with my college mentor, Dr. Albert Damon, on analyzing data from the Solomon Islands. I was doing my senior thesis on the relationship between growth patterns and the introduction of western culture and diet in the Solomon Islands; Dr. Blumberg was looking at hepatitis B infection in the same populations.
    I found Dr. Blumberg to be a very generous person in so many ways. First, he hired me, regardless of the fact that I brought none of the skill sets required for the initial position he could offer. I had little laboratory experience, and the job involved running tests for HBV antibodies. Second, I had only a little bit of experience with statistics, and statistics would be critical to any data analysis I might do. But he hired me anyway. Over the next four years he took me to his medical anthropology class at Penn, gave me data sets to work with, and eventually hired someone else to do the lab work, moving me to full time analysis work. This is the first principle I learned from Barry – a good manager of people hires people and invests in them, rather than hiring relatively nameless skill sets that fit into a preconceived notion of where the group is going.
    Working for Barry as a young college grad was really fun. One reason was that he was open to ideas even from the untrained and inexperienced. He took my ideas seriously, even though I was a lowly technician “no one”. He actually talked to me about the research I was participating in. Instead of saying “do this, do that”, he and Tom London said, “Take off and see what you can find.” This was the second principle I learned from Barry – young and inexperienced people can have good ideas; listen to them. I have used this principle as a teacher of Advanced Placement Biology. I have students write a grant proposal as a final project after the AP exam in May. Yes, juniors in high school can read peer reviewed scientific literature and come up with ideas for experiments that no one has ever done before. Some of them are really novel and some just further research a little bit. But they can do it. I found it so moving when I heard from Tom London that Barry’s last lecture involved encouraging NASA to put space exploration data online so that “interested amateurs could contribute useful interpretations. “
    Barry was also very generous with credit. While many researchers relegate their technicians to the acknowledgment sections of their papers, Barry put people on the author list, even when the contribution was small. He nurtured young scientists rather than trying to grab everything for himself. That was the third important principle I learned from Barry – people grow and contribute even more when they and their work are respected and valued.
    Lab meetings with Barry were always interesting. The meeting would focus on the research, of course, but somehow the sayings of Chairman Mao or some other interesting bit of philosophy or history would come up. This was the fifth important principle I learned – everything is related if you are willing to open your mind and think about it. A corollary to this was the sixth principle – laugh. Find the humor in things, don’t take yourself too seriously, and laugh.

    Finally, as everyone knows, Barry went all over the world with HBV research, and this involved lots of flying and frequent time changes. I remember one time he returned from Mali, I think it was, and went right back to work while the rest of the team went home to recover from jet lag. According to a relative whom I met at his son’s Bar Mitzvah, Barry didn’t need much sleep even as a young child. I gather it drove his mother crazy. I thought, “imagine what a person could accomplish if she only needed a few hours of sleep each night!” I tried living this way a couple of times in my life, but with vastly different results. Instead of accomplishing so much, I managed to make myself pretty sick, needing several months to recover from extended periods of sleep deprivation. So that was the seventh principle I learned from Barry – not everyone can do what Barry did.
    So thank you Barry! Generous, magnanimous, doing amazing things while remaining light-hearted – your impact on my life and the lives of so many was huge and propelling and wonderful. We’ll miss you!

  2. astrodel
    April 20, 2011 at 8:36 pm #

    I wrote a blog post about the wonderful opportunity of knowing Dr. Blumberg:

    I am very grateful to have known him!

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